Friday, October 31, 2014

Free Speech

Saw this mobile manifesto a couple of days ago in the parking lot of my local grocery.

I may not agree with what he says, but I'll defend to the death his right to... ah, who am I kidding? I ain't throwing my life away for this nut job's incoherent ramblings.

So what the hell is this tin foil hat wearer going on about here? What life or death message was so important that it needed emblazoned on the back of his truck in crudely scrawled, foot high letters, for all the world to see?

Based on the tiny, barely visible pot leaf on the door, I think it's got something to do with marijuana. Exactly what it has to do with pot though, I have no idea.

I think maybe he's for the legalization of pot. Prohibition means to, well, prohibit something. I guess he's asking if the criminalization of pot has made the world a safer place? Or would we all be better off if everyone was at home on their couches, stoned our of their minds? He's got Indiana plates, and pot ain't legal here. In fact, the Hoosier state has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country. So I think he's ranting against Indiana's drug laws. 

Honestly I'm not really sure. Figuring out what this demented screed means is like trying to catch a butterfly. Every time I've almost got a hold of it, it flutters away just out of my reach.

One would think if one is going to go to the trouble of reducing the resale value of one's truck by slathering it with an indelible proclamation, one would at least make sure it was coherent and intelligible.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 6: A Fractured House

A lot going on this week, as we meet a member of Evil Ward's family, we find out a tidbit about May's past, and Mockingbird becomes a (hopefully permanent) member of the Team.


The Plot:
A HYDRA team disguised as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attacks the UN, killing several delegates and injuring Col. Talbot. This plan immediately turns the world against S.H.I.E.L.D., and I have to wonder why it took so long for HYDRA to think of it. And wasn't the world already against S.H.I.E.L.D. anyway?

Senator Christian Ward, who just happens to be Evil Ward's big brother, goes on a public rampage against S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye questions Ward about his older brother. He tells her the same story he did last season, that Christian "forced" Ward to try and toss his younger brother down a well. Coulson infiltrates Christian's office and questions him. He says the exact opposite, that he had to save his younger brother from Evil Ward. Apparently they're both equally manipulative, lying bastards. I bet Thanksgiving at their house was a riot.

Meanwhile, Mockingbird and Hunter get reacquainted, and we find there may still be a spark or two between them. Fitz accuses Simmons of abandoning him in his hour of need, which is kind of true.

Coulson offers to hand over Evil Ward to Christian if he promises to knock off the S.H.I.E.L.D. witch hunt. Christian agrees, and during the prisoner transfer Evil Ward escapes, to absolutely no one's surprise.

After HYDRA wipes out a S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house and its inhabitants, Talbot offers his condolences to May, indicating he may be finally be softening his stance toward them. And a mysterious man with a connection to Coulson shows up at a tattoo parlor.

• Coulson finds an "I Hate Mondays" coffee mug in the S.H.I.E.L.D. kitchen and asks if somebody brought it from home. Was that Grumpy Cat on the mug?

• Agent May was once married! And not surprisingly, it doesn't sound like it ended well.

• The S.H.I.E.L.D. operative based in Belgium was Agent Walters. I poked around online to try and find out if she was from the comics, but came up with nothing. I guess everyone who appears on the show isn't necessarily from the comics. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

• There seems to be a lot of duality on this show. There's FitzSimmons of course, the two nerdy science kids. Trip and Mack are both black, tough-guy technicians. Lance Hunter is the new bad boy, who's seemingly a replacement for Ward. And now we have Agent May and Mockingbird, who pretty much perform the exact same function.

I don't know if there's a reason behind this, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

• Mockingbird gets a cool new costume and goes back to being a blonde, which made me happy. It makes me even happier to realize there's now a full-fledged Avenger (from the comics at least) on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. I'm hopeful she'll stick around for a while. Her interactions with Hunter were a lot of fun.

• Evil Ward tells Skye that his brother Christian is even worse than he is. I kind of doubt that. Did Christian kill several dozen people in cold blood last year, like Evil Ward did? They're both master manipulators and it wears me out trying to figure out which one is lying more than the other.

• May, Hunter and Mockingbird enter the safe house in Belgium and are attacked by vicious HYDRA agents. During the battle, 
Mockingbird hits one of the HYDRA men on the arm, promptly knocking him out as he falls to the floor like a sack of laundry.

I've heard of a glass chin, but a glass forearm?

• After the battle, Col. Talbot shows up at the safe house. His right arm's in a sling from the HYDRA attack at the beginning of the episode. He offers his sympathies to May, going so far as to shake her hand. With his hand that's in a sling. Apparently he's faking his injury in order to get some time off.

I think they threw in this scene to show that Talbot is finally changing his opinion toward S.H.I.E.L.D., but it felt unearned. There hasn't been enough time yet between his "shoot all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on sight" mode and this "you guys aren't so bad after all" stance.

• Coulson has removes Evil Ward from his cell and transfers him to Christian. Of course en route, Ward dislocates his thumb, slips out of his cuffs, kills the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents transporting him and escapes.

Did anyone NOT expect this to happen?

Coulson knows how dangerous Evil Ward is, listing the many people he's killed and the atrocities he's committed, and yet he walks him out of the headquarters surrounded by just a few guards. 

Why let him walk out at all? Why not sedate his ass and carry him out on a stretcher? Or put him in some Hannibal Lecter rig, complete with straightjacket and face mask? It makes me wonder if Coulson knew he would escape, and this is all part of some convoluted plan on his part.

I predicted a couple of weeks ago that Evil Ward was eventually going to have to escape. He pretty much had to, unless they planned on keeping him in his little cell for the rest of the series, which would have been ridiculous.

Maybe now he'll turn against HYDRA, and they'll have to team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to eliminate him. I always like a good "villain teaming up with the good guys to defeat an even worse threat" plot. As long as they don't try and redeem him though; that would be the worst. Evil Ward's way past redemption at this point, and it's my considered opinion they don't try.

• In the tag scene, a mysterious man enters a tattoo parlor and wants some new ink. He removes his shirt and reveals his body is covered with tattoos that look exactly like Coulson's alien circuitry scribblings. I bet that's something Coulson never thought of– tattooing the patterns on himself!

So I wonder if these tattoos will give him some sort of super power?

By the way, as Tattoo Guy is getting inked, he places his hand over that of the artist. I assume he was guiding his hand as he drew the symbols, but it was kind of funny as it looked more than a little like he was giving him a tender little embrace.

The Flash Season 1, Episode 4: Going Rogue

This week the Flash gets a visit from an Arrow cast member to remind us that both shows are set in the same universe, and a major villain from the comic finally makes his debut.


The Plot:
A gang of thieves tries to hijack an armored car carrying a comically huge diamond, but they're thwarted by the Flash. Barry identifies the leader of the thieves as the improbably named Leonard Snart. 

Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak takes a break from Arrow and pays a visit to The Flash set, which I'm sure was absolutely not an attempt at boosting the ratings of both shows. Iris thinks Barry and Felicity would be perfect for one another, as the audience agrees. Unfortunately Barry is still smitten with dumb old Iris, for reasons that remain unclear. 

Snart manages to acquire a freeze gun that was invented by Cisco at STAR Labs. He becomes Captain Cold and uses the gun to steal the aforementioned diamond from a museum. Dr. Wells flips his wig when he finds out Cisco built the gun to use against Barry, in the event he should ever turn bad. 

Even though Cisco's actions were perfectly reasonable, Barry feels betrayed by him and throws a big hissy fit. He tries to stop Captain Cold, but is zapped by the freeze ray. Just as Cold is about to ice Barry (see what I did there?), Cisco, Caitlin and Felicity show up with an even bigger freeze gun. Not being an idiot, Cold wisely retreats. Cisco reveals that the big gun was really a vacuum cleaner. Wah-wahhhhh.

Felicity tells Barry goodbye as she heads back to her own show. The two of them realize they're right for each other, but they're both too busy pining for people they can't have. 

• At the beginning of the episode, Dr. Wells is testing Barry's ability to multitask at super speed. To that end, Barry zips back and forth playing chess, ping pong and Operation.

Hmm. The definition of "multitasking" must have changed while I wasn't looking. I thought it meant to perform several functions at the same time. Flitting from one separate exercise to another, even at super speed, is not multitasking. 

Now if he'd been playing chess with one hand and Operation with the other while running on the treadmill– that would have been multitasking.

• The Going Rogue title no doubt refers to the Flash's Rogues Gallery of the comics, which usually featured Mirror Master, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard, The Trickster, Pied Piper, The Top, Captain Boomerang, and of course Captain Cold.

• This week's Easter Egg Alert:

• The armored car that Snart and his gang robs says "Blackhawk Security" on the door. The Blackhawks were a team of pilots who fought crime in WWII.  
• The museum director is named Dexter Myles. In the comics, he was the curator of the Flash Museum in Central City. 
• The Kahndaq Dynasty Diamond also has a comic connection. Kahndaq is the fictional Middle Eastern country ruled by Black Adam, the arch enemy of Captain Marvel (I know, I know. I've been calling him Captain Marvel my whole life and I refuse to start calling him Shazam now. To hell with the corporate lawyers!).
• As always, Emily Bett Rickards is wonderful as Felicity Smoak. Her appearance was like a breath of fresh air on the show. Unfortunately, she's far more interesting than Caitlin Snow. Felicity's bubbly personality only highlights how underwritten and, well, dull Caitlin is.

It's really too bad they can't figure out a way for Felicity to be on both shows. C'mon, Oscar Goldman was on both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, so it's not like it couldn't be done.

• Felicity confesses she knows Barry is secretly the Flash, as she overheard him and Arrow talking on a rooftop a few weeks ago (!). Jesus, yet another person who knows Barry's identity. Why's he even bothering with the mask by this point?

• Barry brings Felicity to STAR Labs and introduces her to the gang. That seems a bit presumptuous on his part. Shouldn't he have checked with the unpredictable and creepy Dr. Wells before bringing her in?

• As Barry shows off his super speed on the treadmill, Felicity worries about the effect his powers may have on his health. She wonders if he ages more quickly when he uses super speed, and fears he could run so fast he "turns to dust in a red costume."

This was mostly likely a shout out to Crisis On Infinite Earths, the 1985 DC Comics miniseries that tried and failed to clean up their continuity. In the miniseries, the Flash battles a god-like being called the Anti-Monitor, and runs so fast he begins aging and literally turns to dust.

• Det. West knows all about Snart and info dumps his back story to Barry. Snart's father was a bad cop who routinely beat him, so of course this troubled childhood explains why he's now a criminal mastermind. Sigh...

Once again, I wish superhero shows would quit trying to humanize and rationalize their villains. Why can't the bad guy just be a colossal asshole who robs and kills because that's what he does? Why do we always need some deep-seated psychological justification for a villain's actions?

• Snart steals the freeze gun from a janitor who in turn stole if from STAR Labs. In most versions of the comic, Leonard Snart invented the gun himself. 

Let's hope for his sake that it never runs out of whatever it uses for ammo, as it's unlikely he'd be able to figure out how to reload it.

• I believe Captain Cold is the first non-metahuman villain we've had on the show so far. Wentworth Miller (now that's a name!) does a fantastic job portraying Cold, giving him a cool, icy demeanor.

• It was great to see Captain Cold in the flesh, but I really wish they'd have given him some sort of costume. Something besides goggles and a gun. Yes, they give him a parka at the end, but it wasn't enough.

The Flash has a costume and this is a superhero show after all, so why do they keep dressing the villains in normal street clothes?

On the other hand, it shouldn't be too hard to cobble together a Captain Cold costume for Halloween. Get a military sweater from the Army Surplus Store, some welder's goggles and a Nerf rifle painted black and you're good to go.

• We're told repeatedly that Snart is a criminal mastermind, who spends months casing a joint and planning out a strategy before robbing it. But he's then he's almost caught because he goes on the same museum tour twice in one day. Doy!

• Cisco confesses that he created the cold gun to use against Barry in case he became a super villain after his accident. When Dr. Wells finds out, he tears Cisco a new one for creating such a thing, saying that weapons have no place in STAR Labs.

This is an odd thing to say, especially for someone who's stabbed another man in the chest a week or so ago.

• Once again I have to give props to actor Carlos Valdes. Cisco, the show's resident kewl & radical genius slacker, could have easily been one of the most annoying characters in the history of TV. Somehow Valdes makes him not only tolerable, but likable.

• Captain Cold's master plan involves stealing a ridiculously huge diamond. Always with the diamonds. What is it with cold-based characters and diamonds? Mr. Freeze did the same thing in Batman And Robin. Is it because diamonds look like ice?

• Um... when Barry and Felicity show up at the Trivia Night Challenge, isn't it, well, night time? So how come a few minutes later when Barry leaves on Flash business, it's now daytime? Whoops!

• The show's doing a good job of making Eddie Thawne likable in spite of himself. It's gonna hurt even more when he eventually becomes the Reverse Flash.

• When Iris says she's starting a blog dedicated to mysterious Streak, Barry says he's thought of a better name for him: the Flash.

Wha...? Hasn't that name already been established? Cisco christened Barry "The Flash" back in the first episode. So I guess Iris and the general public doesn't know that? I suppose not, if they're all calling him "The Streak." Confusing.

By the way, "The Streak" is probably not the best nickname they could have chosen. People who grew up in the 1970s will understand why.

• Cisco tells Barry that the freeze gun is deadly to him because "speed and cold are opposites." Well... I guess so, in some esoteric sense. I get that molecules are constantly in motion and they slow down in extreme cold, but... that doesn't seem to have anything to do with speed.

• Barry's seen running on the treadmill several times during the episode, and according to the speedometer he's going around 280 - 300 mph. Once again, that's way too slow for him to be moving too fast to be seen.

Also, in several episodes we've seen Barry run so fast that everything around him appears to stop. 300 mph is nowhere near slow enough for that to be possible. Heck, Formula 1 cars can go around 250 or so, and I'm pretty sure time doesn't  stop for the drivers.

Barry would need to be running many thousands of miles per hour for the "time stop" effect to occur.

• Captain Cold figures out Barry's weakness– he cares. Despite the fact that this particular plot has been done many times before (I'm lookin' at you, Spider-Man), it pays off pretty well here. The Captain deliberately derails a crowded train in order to make his getaway, and Barry saves each of the passengers at super speed– while the train is still crashing! That was pretty awesome!

• After seeing Barry and Felicity together, I have to wonder what the hell he still sees in Iris, a woman who clearly has no romantic feelings for him. I guess that was the point, to introduce some CW brand relationship drama.

• Joe tells his daughter Iris that he's hurt that she kept her relationship with Eddie a secret from him for so long. Iris apologizes to him and says, "From now on, no more secrets."

Well, except for the fact that your father knows your best friend is really the Flash. But other than that, there's no secrets between you two!

• After Captain Cold is threatened with the vacuum cleaner, er, I mean Big F-ing Freeze Gun, he walks away, resisting the urge to shout, "We'll meet again, Flash, and when we do, you'll rue the day you were born!"

We then see Captain Cold handing out a heat gun to a his former partner Mick. Obviously Mick is being set up here as Heat Wave, another villain from the comic.

Hmm. Villain partners, one with icy powers, the other controls heat. Now where have I seen that before...

Architectural Oddities: Seinfeld

Oh, the things you see when you watch a series on a hi-def TV. 

I was recently re-watching Seinfeld and noticed something I'd never seen before. Jerry's apartment building had a name!

As you can see here, his building was called The Shelley. I've been watching the show since it premiered in 1989 and I never noticed that before! For someone who's supposed to be an artist, sometimes I can be shockingly unobservant.

They used the same handful of establishing shots of the building exterior for the first seven seasons.

But then something changed. Starting with Season 8 The Shelley on the awning was painted out. And quite crudely blacked out too I might add, much like the way the cities try to clumsily cover up graffiti on bridges and overpasses.

So what prompted the change?

Was it a squabble over rights? Did the owners of The Shelley, sensing money to be made, start demanding the series pay them a weekly fee to use the name? And then when the Seinfeld staff told them to get lost, they painted out the name in spite?

Eh, maybe, but I would think if it was a rights issue, the owners wouldn't have let the show use the building at all.

I'm betting it had to do with privacy. Seinfeld was extremely popular back then, and it would not surprise me if dedicated fans discovered the real-life location of Jerry's apartment and overran the building, banging on doors in hopes of catching a glimpse of Jerry, Kramer or even Newman.

This actually happened to the owners of the Beverly Hillbillies mansion. Clueless fans barged right in, looking for Jed and Granny. The same thing happened to the owner of The Mary Tyler Moore Show house– people knocked on the door day and night, wanting to talk to Mare and Rhoda.

My theory is that the tenants of The Shelley complained about these unwanted visits, forcing the owners of the building to black out the name on the awning in a desperate attempt to disguise the location.

According to this recent GoogleMaps image, the name's apparently been restored on the awning. No doubt all the hoopla's died down by this point.

By the way, Jerry's fictional New York City address was 
129 W. 81st street. Despite that, the address on the awning reads "757." Whoops!

The real building is actually located in Los Angeles, at 757 S. New Hampshire Ave.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 3: Four Walls And A Roof

Another intense and brutal episode this week, as a major storyline is unexpectedly resolved, and once again we see that humans are far more deadly and dangerous than zombies. 

So far I'm very surprised at how quickly the show's moving along. If this was Season 2, these first three episodes would have been dragged out for an entire year.


The Plot:
We pick up right where the previous episode left off, with Gareth, in full super villain mode, explaining his master plan to Bob before he kills him. As the other remnants of the Termites chow down on Bob's leg, he starts laughing uncontrollably. At first the Termites simply think he's lost his mind (apparently it happens to their victims quite a lot), but he reveals that he was bitten last week in the Food Bank (which I think most of us knew), and they're now eating tainted meat!

Eating human flesh is one thing, but contaminated human flesh, well, that's just too much for the Termites. They promptly dump Bob back at the church. Bob tells Rick & Co. the Termites are still in the area and still hungry. Rick cooks up a plan (heh) to eliminate them.

Meanwhile Abraham doesn't want anything more to do with cannibals and wants to high-tail it out of town now. He and Rick have a big argument to pad out the run time until Glenn and Maggie inexplicably agree to accompany Abe if he'll wait a few hours.

Rick takes a strike team to go wipe out the Termites in their camp. Gareth knew Rick would do this, so he invades the church. Rick knew that Gareth knew he would do this, so he fakes him out, returning to the church and eliminating the Termites once and for all.

• Once again, this week's teaser was ripped straight from the pages of the comic. Gareth's speech about women tasting better because they have an extra layer of fat, Bob's gleeful admission that he'd been bitten and they'd eaten tainted meat, the Termites gagging when they realized they were eating infected flesh– all that was taken word for word from issues 63 and 64.

Even the jacket Gareth's wearing is from the comic.

The only real difference here is that in the comic Chris was the leader of the Hunters, not Gareth, and it was Dale, not Bob who was on the menu.

• Gareth tries to justify his cannibalism by saying bears will eat their cubs when there's no other food. Based on this story, I'm assuming Gareth and the other Termites probably ate their kids as well. Nice try, Gareth, but I'm still not buying your explanation. Surely to Thor other food sources weren't that scarce. Rick and Co. have never seemed to have much trouble scrounging up a meal.

• When the Termites find out they've eaten contaminated meat, they cough and sputter and spit out the bits of Bob they were chewing on, worrying that it'll cause them to turn. Gareth calms them by saying the meat was thoroughly cooked and any pathogens it may have contained were killed.

I don't know, Gareth. We're not talking about the proper way to cook pork here, we're dealing with a zombie virus. Unfortunately we'll never know if he was right or not.

• Once again, Rick shows where his true feelings lie. When they find Bob in front of the church, Rick asks him, "Does Gareth have Daryl and Carol?" Hey Rick, how about asking Bob if he's OK before you start worrying about the more important characters?

He did the exact same thing last season. In Internment Rick returns to the prison after banishing Carol. He immediately runs up to Maggie and breathlessly asks, "How's Carl and Judith and Glenn and Herschel and all the other main characters?" 

• Funny how when some people are bitten they die almost instantly (like Shane), but others linger for days (Jim and now Bob). I guess how long you live after a bite just depends on the script. And whether you have a lot of dialog to recite.

• When Abraham finds out the Termites are still around, he immediately wants to leave and get his charge Eugene to safety. He can't wait even one more second; he's got to go NOW!

I'd think they'd be safer inside the church rahter than stumbling around in the woods at the dark, surrounded by cannibals.

Rick doesn't want Abe and his group to leave, and the two almost come to blows. Glenn and Maggie diffuse the situation by offering to accompany Abraham if he agrees to stay one more day.

Why the hell does Abraham care if Glenn and Maggie go with him? Yes, Glenn joined his group on the way to Terminus, but never seemed all that chummy. I don't see why Abraham would care one way or the other, unless it's a "safety in numbers" thing.

And it for damn sure doesn't make any sense for Maggie to agree to go to DC! Did the writers forget that Beth is her sister, and she's still missing? Beth is the only blood relative Maggie has left. There's no way in hell she would abandon her to follow some group of nudniks she barely knows. 

This whole "splitting up again" thing was easily the weakest part of an otherwise excellent episode. I don't get the point of sending Abraham and his group off on their own, as this didn't happen in the comics.
This whole sequence made little or no sense, and felt like it was tacked on just to eat up the run time.
I'm wondering if they're splitting up the group to temporarily thin out the herd for a while? There's still around fourteen main characters on the show right now, and it's impossible to give them all something to do each week. By having a group temporarily leave they can get a few characters out of the way for a while without killing them off.

• This week Father Gabriel spills his guts (figuratively, not literally) and we find out why he's always so jittery. He confesses that when the zombie apocalypse began, his congregation arrived at the church and began pounding on the door, begging to be let in. Apparently he was afraid he couldn't save them all so he decided he'd save none. The angry crowd kept beating on the door until he heard them all being torn apart by walkers. Wow. This guy's a priest? That's pretty hardcore.

• Funny how Gabriel's flock couldn't force their way into the church even when being chased by walkers, but when Gareth and his gang arrive they simply kick in the flimsy wooden door. 

Didn't any of the churchgoers ever think of that? Or were they reluctant to vandalize a house of worship?

• Gabriel says once his congregation was killed, he disposed of all the bodies. That seems unlikely. Most of them probably turned into walkers and shambled away. As for the ones who didn't, how'd he manage to bury them without being attacked?

• The Termites taunt Rick & Co. by painting a large "A" on the side of the church. I'm assuming that's a callback to last season's finale, when the group was being held in a boxcar marked A in Terminus.

• Rick and his covert ops team leave the church under cover of darkness, heading towards the Termite's camp. A few seconds later, Gareth and his crew arrive at the church, figuring only the weaker members of the group are inside.

Kudos to whoever set up this scene. It was beautifully shot, and a nice bit of misdirection on the part of the creators.

• Gareth taunts the group inside the church and just as threatens Baby Judith, Rick returns and easily captures him and the rest of the Termites. Gareth wets himself and begs for Rick to let them go, promising they'll never eat any of his group again.

Gareth's bargaining sounds very much like what Rick said when he tried to reason with him in the Terminus Kill Room.

• A few weeks ago when Rick was a captive in Terminus, he made a promise to Gareth, telling him that he'd kill him with a particular red handled axe.

Rick's a man of his word, as this week he chops Gareth into fun-sized bits.

• So I guess that's that! After building up Gareth for half a season, I assumed he was going to be this season's Big Bad. And just like that, he's snuffed out within three episodes. I gotta say, I wasn't expecting that.

I think after five seasons the producers know we've figured out the show's patterns and rhythms and have started playing with our expectations.

• Michonne gets her sword back! Huzzah! She just wasn't Michonne without her sword.

• Sasha comforts Bob in his final moments. He dies in mid-conversation, and then she just sits there beside his body, practically begging him to turn and attack her. I'm sure they filmed the scene that way on purpose, and it worked. I was screaming for her to hurry up and stab him in the head before he turned.

• Abraham gives Rick a map of his route before he and his group leaves. Rick reads it a few minutes later, and it contains a hand written apology from Abraham. The only thing missing was an "XOXOXO! Love, Abraham" signature.

• At the end of the episode, we see Tyreese digging a grave near the church, presumably for Bob. Rick, trying to get him to talk, picks up a shovel and appears to start digging a second grave. Was he just absentmindedly digging for the heck of it, or was he really digging a another grave? If so, who was it for? Bob's the only member of his group that died this week, and it seems unlikely that they'd take the time and trouble to bury the Termites.

• Daryl returns at the very end, with a special mystery guest waiting in the bushes.

So who's with him? Based on next week's trailer, it's probably not Beth. I doubt it would be Carol, because why would she be shy about coming out? My money's on Morgan, Rick's pal from the very first episode. I'm betting Carol's probably behind him with a gun jabbed in his back until Rick vouches for him.

• Lastly, there's apparently a large contingent of fans out there who've concocted a bizarre theory. They believe that Rick is still in a coma, and everything that's happened on the show since Season 1 is all in his mind.

Wow. I have to say that thought never once occurred to me. I don't understand why anyone would even think that. Has there ever been even the tiniest, most minute clue that this is all a dream? If so, it sailed way over my head.

This cockamamie theory has spread across the interwebs like, well a zombie plague. Series creator Robert Kirkman actually had to take to Twitter and assure fans that everything on the show is indeed happening, and is not a figment of Rick's imagination.

Thank Thor! I can't stand the "It was all a dream" scenario and that would be the absolute worst thing that could happen on the show.

DVD Doppelgängers: Night Crawlers Vs. House Of Fallen

A couple of days ago  I was in a video store and saw this Night Crawlers DVD.

Even though I've never seen the movie before, something about it seems awfully familiar. I can't quite figure out where I've seen it before...

Oh yeah. Now I remember.

Cheezus H. Rice, DVD cover designers! You're making this too easy for me! You're not even trying to hide your swipes anymore! 

I suppose in the interest of fairness, the designer of the Night Crawler cover did take the time to change the color of the creepy girl's red eyes and add a little symbol to her forehead. Oh, and some unconvincing, poorly drawn blood splatters to her fingernails. 

I'm betting the second he finished altering the creepy girl's image he leaned back in his chair, took a big swig of Jolt and congratulated himself on a job well done.

Thanks to my pal KW Monster for finding this week's DVD Doppelgangers!

Monday, October 27, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Ouija

Ouija was written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, and was directed by Stiles White.

Snowden previously wrote The Possession and the Nicholas Cage vehicle Knowing, which should tell you everything you need to know about this film. White has primarily worked as a special effects technician. This is his first turn as a director.

This film is yet another in Hasbro's "Let's Turn Our Toys And Games Into Movies" series, the previous examples being Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship.

This film was originally green lit by Universal and was intended to be a big budget, effects-heavy board game-based family film, ala Jumangi. Michael Bay of all people was one of the producers of this early version of the film, so no doubt the Ouija board exploded in every scene.

This souped-up version of the movie was all set to film when the big budget, effects-heavy board game-based Battleship premiered and sputtered, caught fire and plummeted to Earth, leaving a fiery, expensive and critically panned crater in its wake.

Universal then dumped the project, and Ouija was then retooled into the low budget, PG-rated horror version we see here.

As crazy as it may seem, this is not the first movie based on the Ouija board. There was a 2003 film from Spain titled Ouija.

As well as one from the Philippines in 2007. The 2014 version seems largely based on this one.

There was also a Witchboard trilogy (because the story was just too big and complex to be told in one film) that was also centered around a haunted Ouija board.

In this day and age when Jittery Soccer Moms can get Breaking Bad action figures banned from toy shelves, I'm honestly surprised that it's still possible to buy a Ouija board in a store. You know, what with devilish and supernatural subject matter.

The film's not the least bit scary, but it has a plot with a twist or two and makes more sense than most ghost stories, as long as you don't think about it too hard. It's definitely not great, but it's probably as good a movie that's based on a board game as you could expect.


The Plot:
The film opens with a flashback, showing giggly young girls Debbie Galardi and Laine Morris innocently messing around with a Ouija board. This is where we learn the rules of the game: Never play it in a graveyard (does that really need to be said?), always say goodbye to your spirit subject and never, ever play alone. And never feed the board after midnight or get it wet. Wait, that's not right.

Years later, Debbie's now in high school (I think) and one night while home alone, she just can't keep her hands off her Ouija board and plays the game alone. She's then immediately possessed by a malevolent spirit that causes her to hang herself.

After the funeral, Laine is puzzled by Debbie's suicide and laments that she never got to say goodbye to her. She cooks up a brilliant plan– she'll contact her through the medium of the Ouija board! She somehow talks her sister, her boyfriend, Debbie's boyfriend and a redshirt female friend into joining her, and they use the board to contact Debbie in her home.

Amazingly they get through on the first ring, as "Debbie" uses the board to spell out "HI FRIEND." Unfortunately over the next few days the various friends all see the message appear as they go about their business, which quite rightly unsettles them. One of them is even killed by the increasingly evil spirit.

Laine snoops through the Galardi's attic and discovers a box of photos. She learns that years ago, the house was occupied by a mother and two daughters. A quick bit of Googling reveals that the Mother killed young Doris Zander in her home (after sewing her lips shut). The older daughter Paulina then killed Mother in retaliation. It just so happens that Paulina, now an old woman, is still alive and living in the local mental institution.

Laine visits Paulina, who tells her that the ghost of Mother is haunting them, and the only way to destroy her is to find Doris' body, which is hidden in a secret room in the Galardi's basement, and cut the stitches from her lips. Laine thinks this is a perfectly rational suggestion, and does just that.

Laine finds Doris' desiccated body in the secret basement room and cuts the stitches from her mouth. Her body then raises up and screams at the ghostly Mother, destroying her.

But wait! Both Laine and Debbie's boyfriends are killed shortly afterward. Laine discovers that Doris was actually the evil spirit, and her Mother sewed up her mouth to protect the world. Now the only way to stop Doris' evil spirit is to burn her dried up little body in the furnace, along with the Ouija board, which is just what happens.  

Annnnnd then in the final scene the Ouija board reappears. Wakka wakka!

• When Debbie is possessed by the evil spirit (after stupidly playing the Ouija board by herself) she grabs a string of Xmas lights decorating her bulletin board, drags them to the staircase and hangs herself with them.

Those lights must have really been plugged into the outlet securely, because they're not yanked out of the wall as they support her full, jolting weight.

OK, so I suppose she might have looped or tied them around something first, but still. 

• This is the second film I've seen this month that's used the "oven burner that comes on by itself" trope in a desperate attempt to generate scares (the first occurring in Annabelle). Apparently self-lighting stoves are the new "flying cats" when it comes to movie scares.

• The small piece that's moved about the Ouija board is called a "planchette." Everyone in the movie seems to automatically know this term, which I find unlikely. How many people have ever heard the word "planchette" before in their lives?

• After Debbie dies, her distraught family leaves town "indefinitely" and asks Laine to watch over their home. Well that was certainly a lucky break for the plot! Having the Galardis conveniently out of the picture gives Laine unlimited access to their house. 

She takes full advantage of it too, holding numerous Ouija seances, traipsing around in the attic and even knocking a hole in a hopefully non-load bearing wall in the basement and burning desiccated corpses in the furnace!

• During the first seance in the Galardi home, the power mysteriously goes out. I guess neither Laine or any of the other characters thought this outage was worth reporting to the power company, because the electricity's off for the rest of the film. Hope the Galardis didn't have anything perishable in the fridge!

Or course the real reason the power went out is because the movie's barely scary as is, and would have been even less so if they were walking around with all the tasteful track lighting on.

• The script seems to indicate that the various spirits are bound to the Galardi home. So how is it that after the first seance, all the participants see the "HI FRIEND" message miles away from the house and the Ouija board? One of them is even killed in her own bathroom! How's that possible? Are the spirits stuck in the house or not?

• Isabelle, one of Laine's friends, is seen flossing her teeth before bed. She peers into the mirror and suddenly her lips are sewn shut as she levitates off the floor. Her head is then smashed violently on the sink, killing her instantly. 

That settles it! I'm never flossing again!

• The always great and dependable Lin Shaye (who's starred in many horror films over the years) makes a welcome appearance in the film.

Unfortunately she's only in two all-too-brief scenes. Even then, she's relegated to Obi-Wan in Return Of The Jedi status as she infodumps several pages of exposition to Laine, 

She spells out the entire plot and how to resolve it in easy to understand English for the dimmer members of the audience.

• Many experts agree that our collective attention spans are getting shorter every year. Nowhere is that phenomenon more evident than in this film. Debbie, the film's first fatality, is mourned for several days. Later on Isabelle is killed and her death is given a minute or two of attention before it's forgotten forever. Near the end Trevor and Pete are both murdered by the ghost, and their deaths barely even register to the surviving characters. 

• The ghosts in this film seem awfully easy to "kill." When Laine first cuts the stitches from Doris' mouth, she spews a jet of black smoke or energy or something out of her gaping maw, right at her Mother's ominous spirit. Mother vanishes in a little poof, leaving a faint outline of her form on the wall behind. The same thing happens at the end when Doris' spirit is eliminated by the ghost of Debbie.

This was a vengeful, powerful apparition that just killed four people. You'd think it would take more than simply belching on it to destroy if forever.

 • A noticed a couple of things in the end credits I've never seen before:

Danny Giles – Second second assistant director. I'm assuming that's an attempt at humor, right? Or did it sound less convoluted than "assistant to the second assistant director." Still and all, it was no doubt an impressive position on the film.

John Fearn - Honeywagon driver. Apparently there was a lot of sh*t that needed hauled away from this film. So much so that it warranted a film credit!

Ouija is yet another of Hollywood's attempts at turning a board game into a film that isn't the slightest bit scary. I give it a B-.

This Week In Ill-Advised Halloween Costumes UPDATE!

Two weeks ago I posted this: a story about an ill-advised Ebola Containment Suit Halloween costume, designed solely to cash in the nation's health scare and sure to fan the flames of irrational fear and rampant paranoia.

The fact that a costume of such questionable taste didn't surprise me. The only thing that did astonish me is that there was no Sexy Ebola Containment Suit Costume. Yet...

How frighteningly prescient I can be at times.

Behold the Sexy Ebola Containment Suit costume! I guess it was inevitable, like Daylight Savings Time and the appearance of ear hair.

Actually it's not all that hard to predict things like this. All you have to do is ask yourself, "What's the worst or least tasteful thing that our sorry excuse for a society could come up with right now?" Whatever answer you come up with will magically appear within days. Go ahead, try it!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but does it seem like this costume isn't all that sexy? Heck, I've seen Sexy Mother Superior costumes that showed more skin.

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 10: In The Forest Of The Night

This week the Doctor goes green as we get a filler episode before the big two part season finale.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode. It doesn't really fit the usual Doctor Who formula. Heck, it doesn't even follow basic narrative structure at all. There's no antagonist (unless you count the solar flare). The two leads are virtually ignored as one of the guest stars becomes the ostensible hero of the story. There's not even a plot to speak of, as the characters flit from one scene to another with no well-defined goal in mind. The Doctor doesn't even save the day at the end, reduced to simply standing by and witnessing the proceedings.

Once again we get an episode with "science" that would make Ed Wood blush. A massive solar flare is heading for Earth, so the trees take it upon themselves to grow and cover the entire planet– overnight, mind you– releasing an enormous oxygen "air bag" that will absorb the brunt of the cosmic firestorm and save all life on the planet. Oy gevalt!

As ridiculous as that is, I guess it's still not as stupid as the outlandish happenings in Kill The Moon.

As I've said before, Doctor Who has never concerned itself too awfully much with scientific accuracy. But this episode falls firmly in the realm of fantasy. And not even realistic fantasy like Lord Of The Rings, but "once upon a time" fairly tale fantasy.

That would be fine if this was a standalone film or TV special, but as part of a continuing series? I find the radical change in tone jarring. It's hard to generate suspense or high stakes when the writer can solve any plot complication by literally pulling anything out of his ass.

Kudos to the show for taking a risk I guess. Too bad it didn't pay off.


The Plot:
In present day London, a troubled young schoolgirl named Maebh stumbles upon the TARDIS. She knocks, and when the Doctor emerges he sees that all of London, in fact the entire world, is covered by a thick forest that sprang up in the course of one night.

Clara, Danny Pink and a group of students are on a field trip when the forest appears. Clara seeks out the Doctor, believing he'll have all the 
answers. Unfortunately when she finds him, he's as much in the dark as everyone else. 

Eventually the Doctor discovers there's a massive solar flare heading towards Earth that will wipe out all life. He tells Clara there's nothing he can do, despite the fact that this is the kind of problem he's solved on a weekly basis for the past fifty years. Clara asks the same thing the viewers are thinking, namely how could she have seen Earth's future if it's scheduled to die today? The Doctor mumbles something that sounds like "timey whimey" as the writer paints himself into a corner.

Eventually the Doctor realizes Maebh holds the answer to the mystery. The forest is speaking through her, and tells her that the trees are taking it upon themselves to save us from the flare. And that's exactly what happens. The flare hits, but instead of burning off the atmosphere and roasting everyone alive, somehow the preposterously thin layer of oxygen supplied by the trees causes the firestorm to burn itself out, and Earth is saved.

• After taking a break for a couple of episodes, this week the Doctor starts up again with the disparaging remarks aimed at Clara, saying she has a round face. Of course she does have a round face, but it's pretty rude of him to point it out.

I'll be glad when this particular trend burns itself out.

• The TARDIS apparently now has GPS, complete with the default feminine voice telling him he's reached his destination. A few seasons ago we saw the Doctor secure the TARDIS door with his sonic, complete with the little "chirp chirp" sound as the doors locked.

Next he'll be rotating the tires and taking it in for its 50,000 year oil change.

• It probably didn't mean anything to most Americans, but the giant stone lion and the column with the statue on top are prominent features of Trafalgar Square in London. The statue on the column is of British national hero Lord Nelson, complete with missing right arm.

Nelson's column, the central feature of the square, is over 200 feet high and is guarded by four enormous sculpted lions.

• The Doctor wears his horrible top again in this episode. The one that looks like it was sprayed with battery acid. I really hope he retires that thing after this season.

Doctor Who's modern budget is much, much higher than that of the Classic Series, but there are times when it's still not enough. That budget limitation rears its ugly head in this episode. A forest pops up overnight in Trafalgar Square, but the only inhabitants we ever see are the Doctor, Clara, Danny and six or eight kids and one worried mother as they tromp around through the trees. 

C'mon! Trafalgar Square is a huge tourist destination in London! Probably the equivalent of Times Square in New York. That forest should have been crawling with panicked citizens and tourists alike!

They tried to gloss over this with a TV news announcement that everyone should stay indoors. Nice try, episode. 

•  The Doctor uses his sonic to try and analyze the forest for anomalies, with no luck. Eventually he figures it out and says, "Because they're actually made of wood. No circuits, no mechanisms. Wood."

This is a nice bit of continuity, as the sonic has long been shown to be ineffective against wood.

• Speaking of the sonic, at one point Clara tells the Doctor, "Not everything can be fixed with a screwdriver. It's not a magic wand."  

In recent years a lot of fans have complained about the ever-increasing abilities of the sonic, actually likening it to a magic wand that can get the Doctor out of any jam. I wonder if this was some sort of meta-comment on those complaints?

It was also interesting to make the "wand" comment in an episode that's so heavy on magic and fantasy.

• Clara really shouldn't be put in charge of children. When the forest appears, her first action is to try and find the Doctor. Meanwhile, Danny's first action is to try and protect the kids he's in charge of, and to try and contact their parents.

• Clara brings Danny and the schoolkids inside the TARDIS for safety. A few minutes later the Doctor and Clara exit the TARDIS to explore the forest. Suddenly the statue of Lord Nelson topples over, almost crushing them. Just then Danny and the kids exit the TARDIS. When they see no sign of Clara, one of the kids says, "She's probably dead now anyway. Crushed by Nelson."

How the hell did the kid know that? How'd he know the statue fell if he was holed up inside the TARDIS? Were they watching it fall on one of the viewscreens?

• A crew of emergency workers tries using a flamethrower to burn a path through the thick, instant forest. They torch a nearby hardwood, but because trees "control oxygen" (the Doctor's words, not mine), the fire is quickly extinguished. 

Even if the tree could magically snuff out the flame, it took it several seconds for it to do so. What about the heat from the flame? Surely that had to be bad for it. At the very least it a few leaves should have curled up and died.

• The Doctor, Clara and Maebh are nearly attacked by wolves and a tiger who've apparently escaped from the London Zoo.

First of all, Danny Pink miraculously (and permanently) scares the tiger away by shining a flashlight in its eyes. In the daytime. OK, I'll give them that one, as who can say what a wild animal would do?

Secondly, I see what you did there, Doctor Who. You put a tiger (or should that be "tyger?") in an episode titled In The Forest Of The Night. Well done.

Thirdly, let's hope that after the forest disappears somebody remembers to track down the pack of wild wolves and the tiger than are now roaming through urban London!

• I really wish I had closed captioning when I watch this series. The various accents sometimes makes it hard to understand what's being said. 

For example, Maebh thinks she somehow conjured up the worldwide forest by simply thinking about it. She starts wailing, "The forts! The forts!" Honest to god, due to her accent it took me a couple of minutes to realize she was actually saying "The thoughts! The thoughts!" 

• Any time you have a series about time travel, you're going to run into trouble. Especially when your characters jump back and forth from the future to the present.

As in this episode. In the present day, the Doctor says the solar flare is going to wipe out all life on Earth. Clara quite rightly points out that that can't be, because she's been to the future and Earth and its inhabitants are fine, thank you very much. 

It's tough to get the audience to care about Earth's destruction when they've already seen the future. In order to generate any suspense at all you have to muddy the waters with things like flexible timelines and alternate futures and the like. As they do here.

• The Doctor likens this Happening (heh) to the Tunguska Event. I'm guessing neither the Doctor nor the screenwriter ever bothered to read the report on that occurrence, because it was absolutely nothing like this one. And the idea that trees could somehow cushion the blow of an incoming asteroid is preposterous to say the least.

• Last week Danny called Clara at the most inopportune moment, as she was being attacked by 2D aliens. Hearing unusual noises, along with a male voice in the background, he asked her what was happening. She blew off his concerns and outright lied, telling him everything was fine and assuring him that she wasn't still traveling with the Doctor.

This week we find out that Danny apparently believed her. Only when he found a stack of tests she left behind in the TARDIS did he finally realize she lied to him.

Danny's either very stupid, or very good at denial.

His reaction when he finally finds out Clara's been lying to him for weeks seemed pretty unrealistic too. He says something to the effect that he doesn't care what she's been doing, as long as she tells him the truth right now. Again, nice try, episode. I ain't buying it. 

I get the feeling Danny's not long for the series. Whether Clara leaves in the Christmas Special or not, realistically I can't see these two ending up together. 

• In Kill The Moon, Clara was so fed up with the Doctor's lies and manipulations that she told him to leave Earth forever. Here she tells him to leave once again, but this time for completely different reasons (mainly to save himself before the flare hit). It was a nice moment, and sort of a bookend to that earlier episode.

• This entire episode feels very disjointed and incomplete, so much so that I wonder if it was running long and a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor. Tons of concepts are tossed out, but most are touched on briefly at best and left undeveloped. 

The main plot point-- that a massive solar flare is heading toward earth– is given so little attention that it almost becomes an afterthought. No one ever seems particularly concerned about this impending doom. Clara even worries more about whether Danny knows she's been lying than she does the fact that the Earth is about to be destroyed.

The Maebh's Missing Sister subplot is also severely underdeveloped. Maebh mentions her missing sister a couple of times, and then at the very end of the episode she reappears– apparently having been brought back by tree fairies or some such nonsense.

This could have been a powerful, heartfelt moment if we had even the slightest idea what was happening. Why'd Maebh's sister leave? Was she a runaway? Abducted? Dead? Who knows? It's apparently none of our concern, but somehow we're supposed to care when she magically appears before Maebh and her astonished mother.

I don't need to have every little detail spelled out for me, but I shouldn't have to write the script in my head either.

• Once again Missy is apparently watching the same episode we are on her monitor. She's viewing the exact same scenes from the exact same angles as we are! I guess she's a BBC America subscriber.

Maybe Missy is really a character who's somehow gained sentience, and is aware that she's on a TV series and isn't happy with the quality of recent scripts. She's gathering an army of dead characters and soon will break out of the show and into our world, where she'll march on the BBC offices and destroy Steven Moffat and steer the series back on course.
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